The conventional thinking about waste – one that prevails in most communities around the world - is that waste is dirty and repulsive, it pollutes the environment, and poses threat to human health. Based on this thinking, the methods adopted by most authorities across the world for managing waste are landfilling and incineration.
Landfilling is dumping waste in a large pit to make the waste disappear from the sight of the public. The reality of landfilling is that it contaminates groundwater and the land; an enormous amount of undegraded waste remains in landfills for ages; most often, landfills are not far from human settlements, thus constantly threatening the health of people living in its vicinity; methane, a greenhouse gas, is emitted from the decomposition of organic matters in landfills, which sets other materials on fire; landfills leave the land unusable permanently; when landfills get filled up, they have to be abandoned and new landfills have to be created for dumping waste.
Incineration is burning waste in a closed furnace where 90% of the solid waste vanishes. The truth about incineration is that it converts every 1 ton of solid waste into 30kg of air-borne ashes (containing sulphur dioxide and nitrogen), and 6000m³ of fume gases (containing carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, heavy metals and dioxins); 10% of solid waste volume remains in the incinerator as ashes, which is toxic and requires sanitary landfilling.
Landfilling and incineration destroy products and materials in the name of managing waste. Zero Waste, in contrast, is a strategy of managing waste in which everything has value, derived as they are from nature. The emphasis is on adopting sustainable practices that can reduce waste, and help communities and societies to minimise, and as far as possible, prevent, sending products and materials to landfills and incinerators. Some of these practices include better designing of products and services for ensuring long-term usability of products; minimising wastage throughout the chain of production, distribution and consumption; consuming only what we need; throwing away less; and capturing discarded products and materials by repurposing and recycling.
Ladakh was traditionally a Zero Waste society. Local communities produced only agricultural and human waste, all of which was used up in remarkable ways. Agricultural waste was fed to cattle, mixed in mud bricks, used for roofing houses, stuffed inside mattresses and so on, while human waste was used as manure in farming. These, and many other Zero Waste practices still continue today, not only in the villages but also in the urbanised areas. However, the problem now is that the contents of the local waste have changed, comprising a large portion of inorganic materials such as plastics, cement, glass, metals, ceramics, polyester, rubber, to name just a few.
Our philosophy at Zero Waste Ladakh is that it is possible to protect the environment while enjoying products and materials if we are able to create sustainability in every sphere. To create sustainability, we must decrease our consumption and production, and devise and implement ever more efficient ways of manufacturing, using and reusing products and materials so that damage to the environment is minimal.
Based on this philosophy, our mission is to bring about collaboration between individuals, organisations and the government for adopting the Zero Waste strategy of waste management, in which the top priority is to not generate waste in the first place; however, once waste is generated, priority is to reuse and recycle; sending products and materials for incineration and landfilling is the last option; and the least desirable is throwing waste in streets or in nature.